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Old 05-10-2012, 01:54 PM   #126 (permalink)
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"County takes formal stand against USFS road closures
By Chris Daley
Staff writer From page A6 | May 09, 2012 | 12 Comments
El Dorado County Supervisors have lined up opposite the United States Forest Service and the U.S. District Court to express their "dismay" regarding closure of 42 roads that cross portions of the Eldorado National Forest.

All of the roads traverse meadows or portions of meadows to some degree and, according to the lawsuit known as Center for Sierra Conservation v. U.S. Forest Service, may negatively affect the hydrology of those meadows.

The issue at its most basic level is whether or not the roads should be closed while the forest service continues its analyses and prepares a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. (The SEIS is a federal model similar to California's Environmental Impact Report.) It provides guidelines and options for dealing with environmental issues and is expected to take at least a full year to complete. Pending that completion, the court, so far has indirectly ordered the roads closed, that is, not to reopen them after the standard period of winter closures. Traditionally, they would begin to reopen within the next few weeks for the summer season.

While the 42 roads at issue remain closed, a forest service staffer confirmed that Kathy Hardy, Eldorado National Forest Supervisor, announced Wednesday that many other roads in the forest are now officially open for the season.

The following statement by USFS Public Information Officer Frank Mosbacher was published in the Mountain Democrat April 11. In effect, it notes the court's action is based more on a procedural technicality than on the specific environmental issues. Mosbacher's statement reads in part:

"The potential travel prohibitions are the result of a February court order by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton. The order said the Forest Service failed to comply with the National Forest Management Act in 2008 when it designated 'open for public motor vehicle use' portions of 42 routes that cross meadows. Judge Karlton ordered the Forest Service to 'set aside' the decision that designated these segments as open and to reconsider the decision.

"A final court order with further direction to the Forest Service is pending. In the interim, Karlton ordered the 42 routes remain closed to motorized public use. The final order will identify specifically where travel will be prohibited until a new environmental decision is made."

While the county is not a party to and has no official involvement in the case of Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation v. U.S. Forest Service, supervisors Ron Briggs and Ray Nutting asked the board to consider a "formal public statement" about the case.

Supervisorial Districts, 2 (Briggs), 4 (Nutting) and 5 (Norma Santiago) share extensive boundaries with the national forest. And many of the the roads in question originate in or enter county jurisdiction at one or more points. The ruling does not affect the Rubicon Trail, however, the statement from county supervisors notes that, "These roads have been in use for recreation for decades (some for a century), and provide a unique and irreplaceable opportunity for citizens to enjoy the land which they own."

Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp helped draft the board's letter and described a sort of "Catch 22" dilemma wherein the exact roads or portions of some but not all of the 42 roads represent problem areas. Identifying exactly which and to what degree, Knapp said has been problematic. The forest service's own Transportation Management Plan calls for closure of all 42. However, results of earlier forest service analysis indicate that 22, rather than 42 should be closed. Unfortunately, Knapp pointed out that specific sections of those 22 have not been clearly identified.

Red-legged frogs (endangered species) were reportedly threatened in some sections of some roads over some meadows. According to Knapp, however, investigations turned up no evidence of the amphibians in the targeted areas.

How to actually close sections of the roads in question is also a concern, he said, noting that it has been suggested by the forest service that signs could be put up at the points of proposed closure.

"The concept of law enforcement out there is laughable," Knapp continued, "and the signs won't really stop anyone from simply going around them to get back on the road. You can't gate and close all of the roads too expensive and too much effort. Yet you can't maintain an 'illegal' status quo."

However, Knapp also noted that, "The federal government gets deference when trying to interpret its own rules."

"The county is not asking anyone to do anything and our views have been represented adequately," Knapp said. "This is an expression of frustration over revenue that will be lost and a failure to recognize the contributions of OHV volunteers who have upgraded and improved portions of roads over the years and maintained them in better condition than they would otherwise be."

Closure of some of the most popular roads also may result in increased use of other forest roads, "potentially overburdening these other trails which are not involved in the litigation," the letter notes.

The board's letter concludes by "urging" that "the roads should be kept open for this season while the remaining environmental analysis is being performed."

Mosbacher explained in a phone call to the Mountain Democrat that at this time, the forest service is waiting to "find out the scope of what the judge is looking at and we hope it's a narrow target."

He added, "It's really important for people to know as soon as possible what's going to be available when they make their vacation plans."

Maps and related Q&A are available on the Eldorado National Forest Website, Mosbacher said."
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Old 05-10-2012, 02:09 PM   #127 (permalink)
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Old 05-10-2012, 02:45 PM   #128 (permalink)
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